Michael Gove, Britain’s housing secretary, has cut £1million in funding from a housing association in the North West of England after it failed to act on a mold problem that contributed to the death of a toddler.
On Thursday, Gove announced it would withhold government funding from Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, after an inquest found the death of Awaab Ishak in 2020 resulted from prolonged exposure to mold in his home, owned by the housing association.
“RBH has let down its tenants, so it won’t get an extra penny of taxpayers’ money for new housing until it gets its act together and does the right thing for the tenants,” Gove said. .
The death of the two-year-old has shone a light on the responsibilities of private, not-for-profit housing associations.
Housing associations are responsible for the majority of the approximately 4 million social housing units in England. Their tenants often have low incomes or need additional support.
In 2010, the coalition government cut direct funding for social housing by 60%, and housing associations have since complained of trying to fill a major gap in social housing with few resources.
Rhys Moore, a National Housing Federation executive who represents housing associations, said: ‘We understand the Secretary of State’s interest in ensuring that organizations that receive funding for new social housing also provide tenants existing housing and good quality services.”
Last week the sector was told in Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s autumn statement that it could raise rents by a maximum of 7%, rather than catching up with inflation which is above 11% .
RBH, which manages more than 12,000 homes in and around Rochdale, is under investigation by the social housing regulator. Until it is recognized as a responsible landlord, the housing association will be excluded from government funding and contracts.
Earlier this month, Joanne Kearsley, coroner in Ishak’s case, said RBH had not been ‘proactive’, after the inquest heard the toddler’s family had made repeated complaints about their accommodation with their landlord before his death.
“How in the UK in 2020 does a two-year-old child die from exposure to mould?” she asked.
RBH, who originally suggested the mold problem was “lifestyle” related, has since apologized.
“We made lifestyle assumptions and we accept that we were wrong,” the housing association said in a series of tweets posted on Tuesday. “We will be rolling out additional training across the organization.”
Gove said he would not hesitate to deprive other housing associations of the funds if they failed to meet the regulator’s standards.
“Let this be a warning to other housing providers who are ignoring complaints and failing in their obligations to tenants. We will not hesitate to act,” he said.
Gove has taken a tough line with developers and housing providers, introducing a new levy on home builders to cover the costs of repairing blocks caught in the building security crisis.
He also announced £14million in funding on Thursday to help councils crack down on rogue landlords.